What I learned from going through my old college transcripts


I recently requested my undergraduate transcripts. I hadn’t seen them since I graduated in 1986, nor had I thought about them much. (After all, the diploma is on the wall.)

So seeing them brought back a whole host of memories — or, in some cases, empty spaces. Herewith some thoughts as I dig into my wanderings on the bucolic quad of Emory University:

Math 111 (Calculus I). I got a D in this class, taken the first semester of my freshman year — the only D and worst grade I got at Emory. (Hell, the rest of college I had only two C’s.) I took it because a) it was a logical step after Advanced Math in high school; b) it was part of a list of requirements (though I could have substituted something else). The professor, who had obviously dyed hair, had just returned from some time off and had no idea how to teach freshmen. I, in turn, had no idea how to calculate a derivative. Can I drop this course now?

English 289G (Utopian Literature). The first of three courses I took from John Bugge, perhaps my favorite professor at Emory. Got in purely by accident, as I was closed out of another class. I’ve been thinking about the reading list (“Nineteen Eighty-Four,” “Brave New World,” “Ecotopia”) a lot lately.

Poli Sci 110 (Introduction to International Politics). I have no memory of this class.

Physics 115 (Introduction to Astronomy). I have no memory of this class, either. I got a B-plus anyway. I do love astronomy.

Religion 101 (Biblical Literature and Faith). I remember this class very clearly. It was taught by a man who described himself as a serious Christian who had also had spent time in the Middle East on archaeological digs. His insights into the mix of faith and history of the Bible — always emphasizing the history, which he pointed out sometimes conflicted with the faith — were fascinating.

Phys Ed 132 (Bowling). Yes, I took bowling for a P.E. credit. You have a problem with that? Hey, I improved my average from the 140s to the 160s.

English 281R (Creative Writing: Fiction). With Bharati Mukherjee.

Poli Sci 348 (American Elections and Voting). A terrific class to take in the fall of 1984, when Ronald Reagan was headed for re-election, a prospect that horrified most of us. The professor, a Dr. Boyd, was a cheerful figure who looked like Craig Stadler and cracked jokes about extra credit in exchange for Chivas Regal. He assigned each of us a campaign book to present, which forced me to read “An American Melodrama” and started my lifelong love of campaign books. (“Melodrama” is No. 3 on my list, after Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes” and Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.”)

English 389K (Joyce). Pre-eminent James Joyce scholar Richard Ellmann taught this class, for which I read all of Joyce’s fiction except for “Finnegans Wake.” (We read excerpts of that. Or maybe I did. I definitely didn’t read the whole thing.) I thought I was doing OK until my final paper, which was on the “Circe” chapter. To my surprise, Ellmann vehemently disagreed with one of my interpretations and gave me a C-plus — though I thought I supported my argument well. But then, who was I to argue with Richard Ellmann? Which is why I’m still pissed off all these years later.

English 770R (Studies in Film). From David Cook, a wonderfully meandering and always thoughtful guy who founded the university’s Film Studies department, this was a graduate seminar that showed how television techniques found their way into motion pictures through the lens of a Cook favorite, Alfred Hitchcock. (“Psycho” was the hinge, though I think we watched “Vertigo” three times.) For a time I thought I was going to go on to film school. I didn’t.

It’s funny what I remember and what I don’t. I remember the calculus textbook cost $35, an enormous sum at the time. I remember getting through English 110 (Intro to Literature) partly through short story-ish essays. (I wrote a dandy one that somehow involved Henry David Thoreau meeting Jesus Christ in an office done up like an advertising agency.) I remember oppressively heated rooms in White Hall.

My final GPA, it says, was 3.37. That sounds about right — a solid B-plus that was thisclose to an A-minus. So fuck you, calculus.


8 thoughts on “What I learned from going through my old college transcripts

  1. The Astronomy class almost certainly would have been taught by Dr. Rao. At least it was when Alec and I were in it first semester Freshman year. Testing my memory now: Calculus I (8am), Health, PoliSci, History (Western Civ I), Astronomy, first semester freshman year. Calculus II, History (Western Civ 2), English (Composition), English (Intro to Lit), Personal Fitness/Swimming second semester. Managed to avoid all the drown proofing stuff because the prof/coach was in ill health.


  2. I think I’ve reconstructed my course list for every semester, but I’m missing one from the last semester. Maybe an elective I took pass/fail? And I’m wobbly on which semester senior year I took history of Vietnam War vs. a film class with Cook, leaning towards fall and spring, respectively. Can’t remember the Vietnam War guy’s name or the name of the southern patrician old school English professor who taught the 250/1 AmLit survey course. Looked at current faculty, Brownley and Johnston are only ones still around, with Bugge as an emeritus, that I had classes with anyway.


    1. I was amused to see that spring semester senior year, when I was working at the Hyatt, I took two classes — Cook’s seminar and a 100-level history class. Just enough to graduate.


  3. Trying to figure out how you took the Utopian Lit class before the 201 survey course with Bugge (where he wheeled and pointed to Marc Levy “You’re Wrong!”). They let you take it as a freshman?


  4. I’m going to be digging through some drawers this weekend to see if I can find documentation of what I took the last semester, it’s driving me nuts that I could have gone to a class and remember nothing about it (even if I mostly skipped it). I don’t recall that I could have gotten away with taking only 3 classes, I didn’t place out of anything.


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